Q & A: Mike Curto, Voice of the Tacoma Rainiers

InsidethePark.com recently sat down and had a chat with Tacoma Rainiers play-by-play man Mike Curto. Find out what route he took to land in Tacoma, what his favorite ball parks are, and what he thinks of the current crop of Rainier players.

InsidethePark.com: What made you want to get into radio?

Mike Curto: I always wanted to call games since I was a kid growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area. Hank Greenwald was the guy for the Giants down there. When I went to college I volunteered for the school radio station at Cal and did numerous baseball games while I was a student in college. My senior year they went to the College World Series in Omaha - they had a really good team. I got to do the games in Omaha with 20,000 people there and we were the only station that had it going back to the Bay Area. It was really cool, and it kind of solidified that I wanted to get into it professionally.

ITP.com: When did you get your start in minor league baseball, and what stops have you had along the way before Tacoma?

Curto: I graduated in 1992 and my first job was in 1994 in an independent league. I was with a team in Lafayette, Indiana in a league called the Great Central League and the league folded before the schedule was completed. The next year I landed in Bend, Oregon in the Western Baseball League, which at the time was in its first year. In 1996 I went to Rancho Cucamonga of the Cal League and in 1999 I came here.

ITP.com: Do you have any favorite ballparks?

Curto: I had two favorite parks in the California League. Lake Elsinore was a more modern facility that they based on the trend of retro baseball stadiums like Camden Yards. It has a giant wall like Fenway Park except it's in right field and it's got quirky dimensions. It's a really cool stadium.

San Jose has an old stadium that has been there forever. It's an older park like Cheney Stadium but they really try hard to give it an old time feel. Murals are painted all over the ballpark and hand-painted signs are everywhere. It's neat how they do it.

Oklahoma City and Memphis are my two favorites in the PCL, but I like them for different reasons. Memphis is a major league park except instead of having 50,000 seats it has 16,000 seats. Everything else about it is major leagues. They have a club level like at Safeco Field. They've got huge luxury sweets. You should see the broadcast booth. When we are in Memphis I don't do my work in the hotel room during the day. I'll go to the stadium at noon for a 7 p.m. game because it's so comfortable to work there. It's real nice. The locker rooms are huge. Everything about it is major leagues except the amount of seats. And from the fans perspective it's awesome - it's not symmetrical, you can walk all the way around it and watch the game like at Safeco. It's just a great park.

Oklahoma City I like because, while it is a Triple-A stadium, when they built that park the must have had extra money lying around because they put in all the frills. At the end of each row of seats there is a little design carved into the end of the seat. Out front they have a beautiful statue of Mickey Mantle in his full home run swing. Also it's right smack in the middle of the lively section of downtown there and it makes it really fun there.

ITP.com: What do you like most about your job?

Curto: I love the travel. A lot of people ask, 'how can you do all that traveling.' But I love the travel. I like going to the different cities and going to the different stadiums. I like that part. And it's nice to be around the ballpark everyday, being around the clubhouse and around the team with all the different personalities and characters.

ITP.com: Who are some of your favorite players you've dealt with over the years?

Curto: Before I got to Tacoma we had Matt Clement on our team in the California League when he turned the corner as a pitching prospect from a guy who could throw the ball over the plate to being the most dominant pitcher I've seen at his level ever. Just every single game, blowing away hitters. Every game he pitched you'd look forward to it. You'd think this could be the day he strikes out 15. It was 1997 - in 14 starts he had a 1.60 ERA in 101 innings with 3 HR allowed and 109 strikeouts. It was just dominant and a lot of fun, plus he's a nice classy guy.

My favorite guy in Tacoma has been Jermaine Clark, both on and off the field. He's a super personality and also a fun player to watch. The guy was a pretty good hitter but had a pretty good eye. He was an exciting player in the game, but also fun off the field too. It was fun having him on the team. I wished it worked out for him in the majors.

ITP.com: What are your impressions of some of the young prospects you'd heard so much about over the years - guys like Nageotte, Blackley and Lopez?

Curto: The hype is deserved. I think they are all in different categories. Right now there is so much pressure in the media and from fans in moving these guys up to the major leagues. I think some of them are a lot more advanced and ready than others. You can see that Bobby Madritsch has better command and a better idea of how to pitch right now than the other four guys do. You can see that Clint Nageotte and Travis Blackley are still refining their command and to have either of them starting a game in the major leagues this week would really be rushing it.

ITP.com: You see Lopez more as a third baseman or shortstop?

Curto: He's dropped like 15 pounds since opening day this year and he's starting to get in shape. He had to play some games at shortstop when Ramon Santiago was up and showed better range than I expected. He's out early with Dan Rohn taking ground balls at shortstop and third base before games. I think he could play at either spot - 3rd or SS.

ITP.com: Who's been the biggest surprise to you so far this year?

Curto: George Sherrill has been the biggest surprise for me so far. Dominating for 30 innings as a lefty setup man after 4.5 years in the indy leagues like he did last year, it was easy to say it was a fluke. But he's come out here and been a dominant relief pitcher. He's had a few right handers get to him now, but that slider of his is unhittable for left-handers. A major league lefty is going to have trouble with that pitch. They are missing it by half a foot down here.

Another guy is A.J. Zapp. Keeping my ears opened I heard there were concerns that he wasn't going to be able to make contact consistently. He hasn't at all. He's been pretty solid, and he's not a lost cause against left-handed pitchers either.

Special thanks to Rainiers play-by-play announcer Mike Curto for spending time during a recent rain delay to talk with InsidethePark.com. We look forward to catching up with him again in the near future.

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